Soviets OK Visit by Israelis but Deny Shift in Relations

Times Wire Services

The Soviet Union said today it is discussing dates with Israel for an Israeli consular visit to Moscow, the first of its kind in more than two decades, but said it signaled no improvement in relations.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov told a news briefing that a timetable for the visit was on the agenda at a previously unannounced meeting in Helsinki, Finland, between an unidentified Soviet representative and an Israeli delegation of unspecified size.

Israel radio said Nimrod Novick, an aide to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, represented Israel at the talks, which it said were held this week.

Orientation With Work

The purpose of the Israeli trip, Gerasimov said, would be "getting to know the work of the Netherlands Embassy Israeli-interest section," which has looked after Israel's needs in Moscow since the Kremlin cut diplomatic relations 21 years ago.

He indicated that agreement to the visit was not a prelude to resumption of ties, broken as a gesture of solidarity with Arab countries during the 1967 Middle East war.

"As for the question of restoring diplomatic relations," Gerasimov said, "it was confirmed once again from our side (at the Helsinki meeting) that movement in this area is only possible after a Middle East settlement."

Barrier to Peace

He said the lone Soviet Foreign Ministry official at the meeting had also condemned Israel's "obstructionist position" as the main barrier to peace in the area.

Gerasimov said the Israelis at the meeting had also been told their government bore full responsibility for "violations of human rights" in Israeli-occupied Arab lands.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Ehud Gol told Reuters in response to the announcement: "Israel welcomes the statement of the government of the Soviet Union by which it will permit an Israeli diplomatic delegation to visit Moscow."

The Israeli spokesman expressed regret that the announcement "again sets conditions on the renewal of diplomatic relations between the two countries."

Soviets in Israel

An eight-member Soviet consular team has been in Israel since last July, handling questions relating to Soviet citizens living in the country and Soviet-owned property, mainly lands belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church. Its members had been told their visas could be extended for another month only if the Kremlin allowed an Israeli visit, Israeli officials said today.

Gerasimov said the Israeli visit to Moscow was unconnected with the presence of the Soviet group in Israel.

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